Improving Cheap Macro
A month ago, I wrote about using extension tubes as a cheap and light way to sneak macro into my kit. I was pleased with the very best images that I took from the botanical gardens in Columbus, OH. The two things that the best images have in common is that they are in focus and lit by the sun from the side. With the wide angle that was used, it would have been impossible to add light from flash. The lens was essentially touching the subjects.
There is a variety of specialized macro flash to help add light to macro images or you could use off-camera flash. Be warned: flash is a slippery slope. The flash itself can be big and then you add heavy batteries and light modifiers. You start down the trail of good intentions and end up hiking it with a 30 lb. camera bag on your shoulder.
Light is important but travel photography is about compromise. Where can you draw the compromise? I am determined to make Sony's cheapest and lightest flash work for me. Smaller flashes are also easier on the batteries. The HVL-20M that I use will work a long time on just two AAA batteries. The greatest challenge of using any standard flash for macro images is that the barrel of the lens will obstruct the light altogether or create an odd shadow on your image. That is the biggest reason there is a market for specialized macro flash. Many photographers make modifications to standard flash but they are all big, rigid and potentially fragile.
My proposal is that you shoot macro with a short telephoto. Longer focal length lenses provide more distance between your lens element and the subject of the photo. This approach requires you to use longer extension tubes to get the same magnification. At 25mm focal length, I use a 10mm tube. At 85mm, I use a 25mm tube and get a little less magnification. longer focal lengths create a different image than wide lenses but the advantage is that a standard, on-body flash might be able to light the subject. A simple modifier to defuse the light from the flash is recommended.
Here are some images using 85mm with a 25mm extension tube (on a mirrorless camera) and a small on-camera flash.
I like the idea of being able to bring back some macro images to capture the feel of a place. You find unique details and textures when you travel and it would be nice to bring some of them home.